May’s Government Persists With ‘Difficult’ Labour Brexit Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May’s government will continue talks with the main opposition Labour Party aimed at securing a Brexit compromise, as time runs out before the U.K. is forced to take part in European Parliament elections.

“It’s important that we try and work as hard as we can to try and come up with a single unified approach,” the premier’s spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, told reporters on Friday. “The talks are ongoing and they will continue next week. We will work as hard as we can to try and break the impasse.”

May herself has described the discussions as “difficult,” while Labour officials say she has refused to compromise. Labour wants May to guarantee the U.K. will join a post-Brexit customs union with the European Union; May argues that would rule out pursuing free-trade deals with countries including the U.S.

Without a cross-party agreement, the U.K. looks certain to hold elections for the European Parliament on May 23, almost three years after the country voted narrowly to leave the bloc. That’s likely to be toxic for May’s Conservatives, and polls show the Brexit Party, the new vehicle of former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, ahead.

Donnelly said the government still hopes to avoid the EU vote, but also noted the more time that passes without Parliament ratifying the divorce deal with Brussels, the more likely it becomes that the U.K. must take part. The House of Commons has three times rejected May’s Brexit agreement, prompting the government to seek a compromise with Labour.

The impasse has led May’s team to consider trying to get the deal approved by proxy, by introducing a piece of legislation to Parliament next week that would implement it. The idea would be for opposition lawmakers to amend the Brexit bill to get it into a form that could secure a majority.

But an official said Thursday the government is unlikely to pursue that option next week, despite Cabinet agreeing the bill should be put to members of Parliament as soon as possible.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.